The Who's Tommy
|The Who's Tommy|
Original Broadway Recording
|Basis||Tommy rock opera by The Who|
|Productions||1992 La Jolla Playhouse
1996 West End revival
2013 The Stratford Festival
Tony Award for Best Score
The Who's Tommy is a rock musical by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff based on The Who's 1969 double album rock opera Tommy, also by Pete Townshend, with additional material by John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Sonny Boy Williamson
The musical opened at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California on 1 July 1992. The Broadway debut was at the St. James Theatre on 29 March 1993 with 27 previews running thru 10 April. The show then officially "Opened" on 22 April 1993 and closed on 17 June 1995, after 899 performances. Directed by Des McAnuff with choreography by Wayne Cilento, the original cast included Michael Cerveris (Tommy), Marcia Mitzman (Mrs. Walker), Jonathan Dokuchitz (Captain Walker) and Cheryl Freeman (The Gypsy/Acid Queen) plus an ensemble that included Alice Ripley, Christian Hoff, Norm Lewis, Paul Kandel, Tracy Nicole Chapman, Michael Gardner and Sherie Rene Scott. The play subsequently was produced by various touring companies throughout North America and Europe.
Although the official website for the original cast recording  indicates that it was produced by RCA Victor and released on 13 July 1993, based on recordings from May 9th & May 10th, 1993, I personally attended the 1st night of previews on 29 March 1993 and received a copy of this soundtrack signed by Pete Townshend, George Martin (not yet "Sir") and Michael Cerveris. I must conclude that these initial CD's must have been recorded at the La Jolla Playhouse performances, as they were available during intermission of the 1st Broadway performance, before the 1st Broadway show had even completed.
A Canadian Production opened at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto on 1 March 1995, and played throughout the year. The production featured an entirely Canadian cast, and the lead character of Tommy was played by Tyley Ross. Once the Toronto run ended, the production went on a Cross-Canada tour.
The original Broadway cast performed a one night only reunion benefit concert at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City on 15 December 2008. Produced by The Path Fund/Rockers on Broadway, the concert was a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Broadway Dreams Foundation and the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation.
Note that there are slight plot differences between the music album, the film, and the stage production.
- 1940: Against the backdrop of World War II in London appears a montage of Captain and Mrs. Walker meeting, their marriage, Captain Walker's deployment to parachute into Germany, and his capture and imprisonment in a Prisoner-of-war camp ("Overture"). Back in London at 22 Heathfield Gardens, Uncle Ernie delivers a care package to his pregnant sister-in-law just as two officers arrive to bring them the tragic news that Captain Walker is missing and presumed dead ("Captain Walker").
- Scene One
- 1941: Two nurses gently hand Mrs. Walker her newborn son ("It's a Boy").
- Scene Two
- 1945: American troops liberate Walker's POW camp, and tell him the war in Europe is over ("We've Won").
- Scene Three
- Believing her husband dead, Mrs. Walker has a new lover, and they celebrate her twenty-first birthday and discuss getting married together with now four-year-old Tommy. To their surprise, Captain Walker enters the house as Mrs. Walker and her lover embrace ("Twenty-One"). In shock, Mrs. Walker reaches out to touch him, but a fight erupts between Walker and the boyfriend. Tommy is watching the fight, and Mrs. Walker turns him towards the mirror in hopes of him not seeing the fight. Through the mirror, Tommy sees his father shoot dead his mother's new boyfriend. Mr. and Mrs. Walker embrace, but soon realise what Tommy has witnessed, and violently shake him, telling him he didn't see or hear anything ("What About the Boy"). The police arrive to investigate, while Tommy gazes at the mirror. A narrator (Tommy's older self) appears, visible only to Tommy, and invites the audience to witness Tommy's journey ("Amazing Journey").
- Scene Four
- Captain Walker is tried for the lover's murder, but found not guilty by reasons of self-defense. However, the family celebration dies down as they realise Tommy is now deaf, dumb, and blind, when he fails to show emotion towards his father's release.
- Scene Five
- Mr. and Mrs. Walker take him to a hospital, where a battery of doctors and nurses, to no avail, examine Tommy ("Sparks"). 1950: Tommy is nearly ten years old but the narrator reiterates that his state remains the same ("Amazing Journey (Reprise)").
- Scene Six
- 1950: The Walkers take ten-year-old Tommy to church and host a family dinner ("Christmas"). Although they try to enjoy the party, they can't help but think that Tommy doesn't know that it is Christmas or understand its meaning. Everyone is stunned when Tommy responds to Uncle Ernie's playing the French Horn. Mr. Walker, in a desperate attempt to reach his son, shouts "Tommy, can you hear me?" multiple times. Older Tommy, only visible to young Tommy, sings to him. ("See Me, Feel Me").
- Scene Seven
- Back home, the Walkers worry about whether to leave Tommy with his alcoholic uncle Uncle Ernie ("Do You Think It's Alright?"), but they convince themselves that Tommy will be fine. After the two leave, Ernie molests him ("Fiddle About").
- Scene Eight
- Tommy's parents leave him in the care of his cousin Kevin, a sadist who bullies and abuses the boy mercilessly ("Cousin Kevin"). Cousin Kevin and his friends then take Tommy to a youth club where, to everyone's astonishment, he plays pinball brilliantly ("Sensation").
- Scene Nine
- Encouraged, the Walkers try yet another doctor, a psychiatrist, who tests Tommy without success ("Sparks (Reprise)").
- Scene Ten
- The desperate Mr. Walker is approached by The Hawker and Harmonica Player ("Eyesight to the Blind") who promise a miraculous cure for Tommy. They take Mr. Walker and young Tommy to the Isle of Dogs to find a prostitute called The Gypsy.
- Scene Eleven
- The Gypsy tries to convince Mr. Walker to let her spend time alone with Tommy, introducing him to sex and drugs ("The Acid Queen"). Mr. Walker, horrified by the Gyspy's methods, snatches the boy and runs away.
- Scene Twelve
- 1958: The act ends as Cousin Kevin and a group of teenagers await 17-year-old Tommy's appearance at the amusement arcade as his skills propel his rise to local popularity ("Pinball Wizard").
- 1960: Tommy has become the pinball champion and hero of the neighbourhood lads. ("Underture").
- Scene Thirteen
- The father, still in search of a cure, convinces his wife to try once more ("There's a Doctor").
- Scene Fourteen
- They take Tommy to specialists ("Go to the Mirror!") for elaborate tests, but to no avail. The doctors discover that Tommy's senses do work but are for some reason not processing what he sees or hears and that no one can free Tommy from his catatonic state but himself.
- Scene Fifteen
- On the street a group of local louts surround Tommy ("Tommy, Can You Hear Me?") and carry him home.
- Scene Sixteen
- The parents, at their wits' end and considering having Tommy institutionalised, compassionately confront one another ("I Believe My Own Eyes"). Tommy stares into the mirror as his mother tries desperately to reach him one last time ("Smash the Mirror"). Out of rage, frustration, and desperation, she shatters the mirror that Tommy continually gazed at for years. With the mirror in pieces, Tommy becomes conscious ("I'm Free") and leaves home.
- Scene Seventeen
- 1961-1963: While his cure hits the news ("Miracle Cure"), Tommy is idolised by the public and the press ("Sensation (Reprise)"), and begins appearing in stadiums, playing pinball with a helmet that temporarily blinds and deafens him ("Pinball Wizard (Reprise)").
- Scene Eighteen
- Uncle Ernie tries to capitalise on Tommy's newfound stardom, by selling Tommy souvenirs in a carnival-like setting ("Tommy's Holiday Camp").
- Scene Nineteen
- On the night of the grand opening party for Tommy's holiday camp, teenager Sally Simpson manages to sneak out of her parents' home to attend Tommy's appearance. She gets on stage and tries to touch Tommy but in the commotion he unknowingly pushes her off the stage, she falls and is pummelled by the guards ("Sally Simpson"). Tommy, in horror, stops the show and tends to her.
- Scene Twenty
- Realising how caught up in the celebrity machine he is due to the remarkable recovery of his senses, Tommy wishes to do something in return for his fans and invites them all back to his house ("Welcome"). Once there, the fans grow and grow in size, though Tommy wishes to make room for one and all. Sally then asks Tommy how she can be more like him and less like herself ("Sally Simpson's Question"). He is confused, and insists that there is no reason for anyone to be like him, when everyone else already possesses the gifts that he was deprived of most of his life. He suddenly realises that although he had thought his fame came from his miraculous recovery, it in fact arose because others hoped he would assume the role of a kind of spiritual leader, based on his knowledge of what it is like not to hear, see, or communicate for so long. Now, disenchanted with their hero for failing to provide the answers they wanted to be told, the crowd turns on him and leaves ("We're Not Gonna Take It"). Tommy hears the voice of his ten-year-old self ("See Me, Feel Me") and for a moment, to the horror of his family, seems to be reverting to his old state. But instead he turns to his family, whom he has ignored during his stardom, embraces them in acceptance, and reunites with his younger selves ("Listening to You"). The entire ensemble joins him and his family on stage. After they all leave, the 4 year old Tommy, 10 year old Tommy, and adult Tommy dramatically end looking out in different directions.
Plot differences between the three productions
The original 1969 album was much more ambiguous in its specific plot points. Originally, the song "Twenty-One" was called "1921" as the album version took place in a post-World War I setting. In the film, the story was changed to be post-World War II and the song was changed to "1951". In both the album and stage versions, the father comes home and kills the lover in the confrontation. Ken Russell's film made a reversal and killed Mr. Walker's character, having the lover then assume the role of a step-father to Tommy.
The film added a handful of new songs which were not on the original album and weren't retained for the stage production. For the 1993 Broadway version, Pete Townshend wrote a new piece called "I Believe My Own Eyes" in which the Walkers resign themselves to accepting Tommy's fate after years of trying.
Tommy's experience with the Acid Queen (Scene 11) is also handled differently between the Album, Movie, & Stage productions. In both the album and movie, Tommy appears to have taken a drug from the Acid Queen which produced a visceral response in the otherwise mostly catatonic child. In the musical, his step-father brings him to see the Acid Queen, then changes his mid and leaves before Tommy partakes of her "charms".
The most fundamental difference in the story is the finale, which was rewritten in 1993. Originally, Tommy instructs his followers to become deaf, dumb, and blind themselves to find a heightened state of enlightenment. The crowd rejects this and turns on him. In the stage version, Tommy tells them the opposite: to not try to emulate him, but to rather live out their own normal lives. Upon hearing this message, the crowd still rejects him out of a desire to hear a bolder message from him.
- Tommy, age 16-25, An embittered young genius. Tenor.
- Captain Walker, age: 25-35, Tommy's guilty father. Tenor.
- Mrs. Walker, age: 18-30, Tommy's weary mum. Pop mezzo soprano.
- Other Tommys
- Tommy, age 3-7: child Tommy
- Tommy, age 8-12: preadolescent Tommy
- Supporting roles
- Cousin Kevin, age: 15-20, Tommy's evil babysitting cousin. A young, loutish nuisance. Baritone.
- Uncle Ernie, age: 30-45, Tommy's perverted uncle. A lecherous bachelor. Tenor.
- The Lover, age: 25-30, Mrs. Walker's boyfriend, killed by Captain Walker. Tenor.
- The Hawker, age: 20-50, An unsavory street man. Baritone.
- The Acid Queen, age: 20-35, A drug dealer and prostitute.
- The Specialist, age: 30-50, A very modern doctor who has new theories on how to cure Tommy. Baritone.
- Sally Simpson, age: 13-20, A typical teenybopper. Soprano.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
Original London production
|1997||Laurence Olivier Award||Best Musical Revival||Won|
|Best Actor in a Musical||Paul Keating||Nominated|
|Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical||James Gillan||Nominated|
|Best Director||Des McAnuff||Won|
|Best Theatre Choreographer||Wayne Cilento||Nominated|
|Best Set Design||John Arnone||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||David C. Woolard||Nominated|
|Best Lighting Design||Chris Parry||Won|
- Heritage FDN
- Brian D. Johnson. "Townshend and Tommy in Toronto". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Shaftesbury Theatre listing
- Hetrick, Adam."15th Anniversary Concert of The Who's Tommy Rocks Broadway Dec. 15", playbill.com, 15 December 2008
- The Who's Tommy at the Internet Broadway Database
- Plot and production information at the Guide to Musical Theatre
- The Who's Tommy at the Music Theatre International website